The government of Cross River State rises to the challenge of providing affordable housing for its residents, writes Jude Okwe
Off the bank of Atimbo River near Calabar a new city is springing up. It is a model city for civil servants. The Cross River state walking the talk to make life meaningful for its civil servants and the model city is a complement for their contribution to the progress of the State.
For thousands of Cross River State workers who dream of owning a house, and for the many property developers who yearn to build and sell to them, the lull in mortgage in the State is ending with the development of Akpabuyo Housing Estate and others proposed across the State. Hope for a home during and after service is getting brighter everyday for the 22,000 workforce of the State Government.
After suffering the initial hiccup of 2008 owing largely to sudden disinterest by some mortgage firms that had signed memoranda of Understanding (MOU) with the Liyel Imoke administration, the project took-off in 2010 when Aso Investment Company Ltd accepted the challenge. Today, 200 housing units of detached and Semi-detached bungalows bestride Akpabuyo landscape under the first phase. Work is billed to commence on the second phase of 600 houses within before the year runs out.
This private venture is financed solely by Aso Investment Company. The Cross River State Government under the terms of agreement entered only provides infrastructure like internal network of roads, electricity, water, police post, recreational facilities and primary and post-primary schools. Besides the provision of infrastructure, government also subsidizes heavily the sum paid by each worker for the house of his or her choice.
Housing constitutes one of man’s basic needs and can be used to determine the quality of life he is living. It tells whether man is suffering material privation and easily reveals where he stands on the poverty index. The Cross River State government’s intervention in housing development is in fulfillment of Governor Imoke’s campaign promise of providing affordable houses to the people of the State. This saw to the birth of the Department of Mortgage Finance and Estate Development in 2007 with the sole mandate of addressing the housing needs of the citizenry.
The department in a statement explained that its mission is to “coordinate housing development programme across the State and evolve a robust sustainable framework for housing delivery with emphasis on affordable, decent and functional housing for low and medium income earners, thereby reducing the housing gap and enabling Cross Riverians that so desire to become home owners”.
Also, the department ensures that it “Promote and facilitate the provision of affordable housing units, complete with defined minimum standards using a sustainable Public-Private-Public (PPP) framework. The department also facilitates access to mortgage finance to promote home ownership”. Pursuant to the desire for a maintenance culture in the houses, the department is concern about owner – occupier housing.
Considering the nature of this project and the need for it to stand the test of time the department collaborates with the Ministry of Lands and Housing, Local Government Councils to make land available with good title for the intervention of the Private and Public sectors in mortgage investment. Other agencies that are participants in the scheme include commercial banks, non-governmental organizations, financial institutions, cooperative societies, professionals and professional groups.
Before the department embarked on this project, it took a survey of the housing needs of each of the three Senatorial Districts of the State to ascertain current and projected housing gaps, know the target groups and their needs. There was also a review of laws, regulations, bye-laws and edicts as they affect land tenure, transfer of titles, mortgage registration, foreclosure. Everything was done according to national and international standards to fit into best practices globally.
In line with the provision of Mortgage terms, a beneficiary is expected to make a down payment (equity contribution) of a certain percentage of the loan. This down payment is between five to twenty percent of the mortgage. Beneficiaries of the Cross River Housing Scheme have up to ten or more years (depending on number of service years left) to defray the loan. Of course, payment is deducted at source every month.
The Special Adviser to the State Governor on Mortgage finance and Estate Development, Mr. Eddy Ogon in an interview, said the “vision of the Department is to ensure that Cross River becomes and remains the leading state in Nigeria in the provision of affordable housing for its citizens in an economically and socially sustainable way”.
In addition, the Department “has evolved a realistic workable action plan to provide 4,000 housing units across the major urban centres in the three Senatorial Districts of the State, (Akpabuyo, Odukpani, Ugep, Ikom, Ogoja and Obudu). The Department has procured consultants to articulate a housing policy and affordable housing strategy document that will guide government decisions on housing development”.
Ogon in another breadth explained that it may not be possible for his department to provide 4,000 houses before the remaining three years of the Imoke administration but can deliver 2,500 houses within this period. The Cross River Property Investment Limited (CROSPIL) would provide the balance, the governor’s aide stated. Ogon believes this was the first time that the State was having a government that has taken housing development seriously.
“We are into partnership with mortgage financiers”, he said, “to provide houses for Civil Servants at no cost to government. We have paid compensation for the Land acquired at Akpabuyo Local Government Area. The sum of N33 Million has been spent on electrification of the Akpabuyo housing estate. Each estate according to our design must have schools, recreational centres, police post and shopping centre”.
According to him, the houses are strictly for Civil Servants duly registered with the Cross River State Civil Service Commission. Public Servants are not beneficiaries. Ogon added that it was impossible for politicians to hijack the scheme because of its in-built mechanism and guidelines for acquisition. Secondly, since payment is deducted at source from the salary of a beneficiary, only civil servants whose salaries are regular and job guaranteed are allowed to apply, win and become proud owners of ultra-modern houses, he added.
During a tour of the Akpabuyo Housing Estate, the Special Adviser said he has repositioned the estate in line with the desire of the State Governor. He revealed that 75 – 80 per cent work has been completed on the estate with only fittings left. All the materials for the project are on ground. Thus, everything is ready and working towards the inauguration of the estate soon. All things being equaled, Governor Imoke will commission the 200 housing units in October.
The houses to be inaugurated by the State Chief executive include 64 3-bedroom detached bungalows, 98 3-bedroom semi-detached bungalows, 26 2-bedroom semi detached and 12 units of one-bedroom Terraced. “it has not been easy, and to sell at the rate we are selling them. A 3-bedroom detached is going for N.8m , a 3-bedroom semi-detached is going for N3.5m . A 2-bederoom detached is selling for N2. 5m, while a one-bedroom terrace is going for N1. 3m . You can see that the houses are heavily subsidized by the state government”, he added.
On method of payment, the aide said his duty is to instill mortgage culture, stressing that he acts like a middle man between the civil servants and the Federal Mortgage Bank [FMB] by providing the necessary avenue for them to access the National Housing Fund [NHF].
“The housing fund presupposes that everybody pays a premium of their salary, I think 2.5 per cent towards the NHF in the mortgage bank and then allow them at the end of the day to draw down between N5Million to N15Million depending on your salary scale and your repayment mode and your ability to repay and build a house.
Where Aso Investment Company Ltd comes in is that under the provision of the statutes, you cannot as an individual go and take money from FMB. You have to go to a primary mortgage institution. So Aso acts as the bridge in the secondary market for the beneficiaries”, Ogon explained.
“Since the government of Brigadier U. J. Esuene there’s been no effort like this in providing housing estates. The Imoke administration is making a difference in the lives of workers hence it has heavily subsidized this scheme to lighten the burden for workers. No other State government in the federation has tried like this, not even in nearby Akwa Ibom State.
“In determining the beneficiaries, we sent out application forms to 4,000 civil servants. What we did next was to ballot for the houses so that the workers do not accuse us of partiality. The exercise was done in the full glare of the applicants. Aso Investment Company Ltd is the only firm that has shown capacity unlike other developers of 2008 that prevaricated and never lived up to expectation”, he stated.
Manager and head of Project team Aso Investment Company Ltd, Mr. Siraj Shittu said his company committed N1 billion into the Akpabuyo Housing Estate. He could not say if the company would bid for the second phase or housing estates in other Local Government Areas of the State. He commended the State Government for having confidence in the firm to develop the estate.
To the special Adviser, a new city is about to come up at Akpabuyo. This city would take off housing pressure on Calabar the State Capital which is just 10 minutes away. In the next three years it would be difficult to recognize that part of Akpabuyo again. This is the work of a visionary leadership which believes in providing more houses and not selling the few available.